Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Geography and Friendships in the Digital Age

Urlesque has the story of a funny e-mail exchange between two men. Here's the story: a man discovers a note from his new neighbor, explaining that he will be having a party and hopes that it doesn't get too noisy. And if does, all the man must do is let him know.

The man is furious that his neighbor is having a party and has gone to the trouble to make out a note on nice stationery, but won't invite him.

What I found interesting about this exchange is how it typifies the transcendance of geography in interpersonal relationships. In the 21st Century world of telecommunications, your social networks have far less to do with geographic proximity than interests and other intrinsic commonalities.

I've moved far, far too often in the 10.5 years since I graduated from college, and only in one apartment did I know any of my neighbors by name. In fact, apartment living may actually encourage this disconnection. Apartment neighbors live in such close proximity that they might maintain a certain interpersonal distance in order to respect each other's privacy, in a way that homeowners on half-acre lots do not need so greatly.

So the new neighbor's note is not really that odd in a social world where one's networks are fragmented into many microcultures instead of a few major monocultures. Thanks to telecommunications technology, we now have the option to find precisely who we wish to socialize with, instead of simply finding common ground with those with whom, through chance, we share geographic proximity.

It is not reasonable for a person to be angry at a neighbor for having a completely independent social life, as the concept of geographic neighbor has eroded greatly.

1 comment:

The Thief said...

I would have been happy to get that note. It would have told me that Matthew was a good neighbor.

When I lived in an apartment, my neighbor was a broadcasting student and he loved listening to his music... LOUD. I had to go over a few times to pound on the door at 2 am to get him to turn it down. When I moved out, I asked him if he wanted my couch (beat moving it down 3 flights of stairs, + he didn't have any furniture at all). He was almost in shock that I gave it to him after he'd not been such a good neighbor.